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Awaiting Investigation Results, Pittsburgh School Board Hears Public Scorn And Support

More than half of the 85 registered speakers in an almost four-hour meeting Monday vented to Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Education members about new Superintendent Anthony Hamlet.

“What they call plagiarism I call appropriation,” said Rodney Lyde, president of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network. “And this appropriation is the foundation of innovation in Western society. We used to call this appropriation intelligence.”


Lyde, who called claims against Hamlet racially charged and politically motivated, was in the majority arguing the board should keep the former Florida educator hired by PPS last month.


Hamlet is now under investigation by Laurel Brandstetter, a partner in Pittsburgh-based law firm Leech Tishman and a former state prosecutor, who the board hired to evaluate claims of inflated numbers and instances of plagiarism and misrepresentation on the resume he used to earn the district's top spot. Brandstetter's report is expected later this week.


Hamlet admitted two weeks ago to fudging at least one number in his initial resume. Media reports since have shown he also lifted language from a Washington Post editorial and a Wikipedia page to pad his speeches and resume.


“We abhor the slander campaign against Dr. Hamlet that is built on people’s racial biases,” said Sandra Woolley, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network education task force chair, speaking to the board. “We want the petty criticism to stop so you and Dr. Hamlet can get to work together.”


A vocal minority disagreed, including representatives from local advocacy groups A+ Schools, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, the Hill District Education Council and the Black Political Empowerment Project.


Urban League President Esther Bush said lingering skepticism will follow Hamlet and compromise his ability to lead effectively. Character matters, she said.


“I will be the first one – and I think it is critically important for us to understand – that integrity has no color,” she said.


Before the meeting groups stood on opposite sides of Bellefield Avenue, which flanks the district’s main office in Oakland. One side said allegations against Hamlet were "petty distractions" taking away from Hamlet's overall body of work. The other group argued Hamlet needs to be held accountable and called for a fresh candidate or a new national search.


Inside, Hamlet's defenders alternated messages of support and disdain for fellow speakers on bright yellow signs. When those holding the floor questioned Hamlet, signs flipped to “petty;” when proponents addressed the board, the signs read “#EndTheDistraction” and “#CommunitySchools.”


“Concerns regarding the search process for the superintendent, coupled with discrepancies in Dr. Hamlet’s resume, have created credibility concerns that will make it impossible for him to move forward with his vision,” said mother-of-two, Cate Axtman.


Fellow PPS parent Sacoyia Reed called for an apology. She said she doesn’t think padding a resume or plagiarizing is acceptable, but she also knows what it’s like to be black in Pittsburgh and have to validate aspects of her life solely because of her race.


“Despite the resume or (the investigation's) results, I would like Dr. Hamlet to apologize in writing for misleading the students and families of Pittsburgh Public Schools and have that apology mailed to every family,” Reed said.


The regularly scheduled monthly meeting also included discussion about the board’s drafted transgender non-discrimination policy, and several speakers urged the board to renew the charter for Urban Pathways Charter School's K-5 and 6-12 locations.


The board meets Wednesday for its legislative session.


**Updated 3:32 p.m. Tuesday, June 21, 2016, to clarify Reed's statement.

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.
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